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19 Jul, 2007 23:13

U.S. millionaire accused of sexual abuse of children

A U.S citizen is being tried in a Philadelphian court on charges of child sex abuse in Moldova, Romania and Cuba. He has already been imprisoned in Russia for similar offences in 2000 but was released after an amnesty.

Travelling nearly halfway across the world, eight teenagers from a small Moldovan village arrived at a Philadelphia courthouse.

Testifying in one of the largest U.S. sex tourism cases ever, the Moldavians described alleged sexual abuses at the hands of American Anthony Bianchi, known to the children as Mark. Charges against the New Jersey millionaire have been filed under the controversial sex tourism law, PROTECT (Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today) Act of 2003.

Mark Geragos, the defence attorney representing Bianchi is one of America's most powerful trial lawyers. An A-list of previous clients includes Winona Ryder and Michael Jackson. Maintaining his clients' innocence, Geragos says the Moldovan villagers are attempting to blackmail the wealthy American. Court documents allege that Bianchi molested nearly a dozen male children on “sex tours” of the poor regions of Moldova, Romania and Cuba.

Barry Carter, Georgetown University Law Professor, says “sex tourism” is a serious problem and “countries have met to discuss this issue. It is an issue of some importance to President Bush's Administration. They have made the whole question of trafficking in women and children a foreign policy issue”.

In 2000, Mark Bianchi was tried in Russia for having sex with teenage boys. He was sentenced to three years in prison but was later released under a general amnesty and expelled from the country. Now on trial for the first time in the U.S., Mark Bianchi's fate may be decided by just how constitutional the PROTECT Act is.

So far, more than 50 cases have been brought under the PROTECT Act, and over 30 defendants have been convicted. Attorneys predict this case will last about two weeks. If found guilty, Mark Bianchi could face up to 20 years in prison.